US backs UN push to get Ukraine grain back to global market

A Yemeni worker carries a bag of imported wheat grain to be ground into flour at a flour mill in Sana'a, Yemen, 23 March 2022. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing shortages of wheat and food price spikes in war-ravaged Yemen which imports almost 90% of its wheat, including over 30% of wheat imports coming from Ukraine and at least 8% from Russia, exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in the impoverished Arab country. Over 17.4 million Yemenis out of the country's 30-million population are facing food insecurity and around 161,000 people are likely to experience famine in 2022 as a result of the prolonged war between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government since March 2015. [EPA-EFE/YAHYA ARHAB]

The United States supports efforts by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to get Ukrainian grain back into the international marketplace amid the war, the US ambassador to the United Nations said on Monday (16 May).

“He has spoken to us about his plans and his discussions with the Ukrainians and the Russians on this issue,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters without giving further details.

After visiting Moscow and Kyiv late last month, Guterres said he was determined to help bring back to world markets the agriculture production of Ukraine and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus despite the war.

Nearly 25 million tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine, says UN food agency

Nearly 25 million tonnes of grains are stuck in Ukraine and unable to leave the country due to infrastructure challenges and blocked Black Sea ports including Mariupol, a UN food agency official said on Friday (6 May).

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Guterres has asked Russia to allow the shipment of some Ukrainian grain in return for moves to help facilitate Russian and Belarusian exports of potash fertilizer.

Potash exports are a key foreign currency earner for Minsk. The US and the EU have imposed sanctions on Minsk, blacklisting entities for the potash sector, as retaliation for Belarus having created a migrant standoff by encouraging thousands from the Middle East and Africa to try to cross into Poland and Lithuania. Other countries such as India however, continue to buy potash from Belarus.

India could buy potash from Belarus in rupees as sanctions hit Minsk

India plans to buy 1 million tonnes of potash from Belarus in the first such bilateral deal between the two countries after sanctions crippled Minsk’s ability to sell the crop nutrient, two Indian officials involved in the discussions told Reuters.

Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, declined to comment. Russia’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine – which it calls a “special military operation” – has sent global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring, with Guterres warning it will worsen a food crisis in poor countries.

Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus – which has backed Moscow in its war in Ukraine – account for more than 40% of global exports of crop nutrient potash.

The conflict has also disrupted shipping in the Black Sea, throttling exports from Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine has been forced to now export by train or its small Danube River ports. Its grain exports have more than halved so far in May from the same period a year ago, agriculture ministry data shows.

First Ukrainian corn cargo leaves Romanian Black Sea port

A cargo carrying over 71,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn finished loading in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta on Thursday (28 April), the first since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, the manager of port operator Comvex said.

Thomas-Greenfield noted that there were no US sanctions on Russian agricultural products. Washington did blacklist the exporting arm of Belarusian state potash producer in December to punish President Alexander Lukashenko for alleged election rigging and cracking down on the opposition.

UN food chief David Beasley warned the UN Security Council in March that the World Food Programme bought 50% of its grain from Ukraine and the war was threatening WFP’s ability to feed some 125 million people globally.

Guterres has also said 36 countries count on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration was working with US farmers to see “how we can provide more support to the international market from US grains.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to host a “global food security call to action” ministerial meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday and chair a UN Security Council meeting on conflict and food security on Thursday.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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